Two journalists employed by official media are being held by police in central Vietnam’s Quang Tri province on charges of “abusing press freedoms” for posting articles online criticising provincial leaders, state media and other sources say.
Phan Bui Bao Thy, 56 and bureau chief of the online magazine Age and Education, and an associate, Le Anh Dung, 50, were taken into custody on Feb. 10 after articles appeared on Facebook pages the two men operated accusing provincial officials of corruption, police said.
One article posted in August on Thy’s Facebook page accused Le Quang Than—deputy chairman of Quang Tri’s Huong Hoa district, and a member of the Huong Hoa Communist Party Committee—of falsifying his educational credentials.
State media did not report the contents of the pair’s other allegedly defamatory online postings. Online access to Age and Education is now blocked.
Press freedoms group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) noted on Feb. 16 that on one site, Quang Tri 357, Thy had posted reports of alleged corruption involving the province’s president, Vo Van Hung, and deputy minister of culture, tourism and sports, Nguyen Van Hung.
Thy will now be held for questioning for the next two months, RSF said, adding, “The police, who carried out searches of his home, claim to have found a great deal of information related to this activities as an online reporter.”
In a statement, Daniel Bastard—head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk—called for Thy’s immediate release, saying “he was just trying to serve the general interest in his work as a journalist.”
“His fate highlights the straitjacket enclosing public media journalists in Vietnam, who are persecuted as soon as they stray from the official line imposed by the ruling Communist Party’s propaganda department.”
“In so doing, the Vietnamese authorities violate article 25 of their own constitution,” Bastard said.
Thy’s arrest came five weeks after the sentencing by a Ho Chi Minh City court of three independent journalists—Pham Chi Dung, Nguyen Tuong Thuy, and Le Huu Minh Tuan—on charges of carrying out propaganda against the state.
Other journalists jailed
Nguyen Tuong Thuy, who had blogged on civil rights and freedom of speech issues for RFA’s Vietnamese Service for six years, was sentenced on Jan. to an 11-year prison term for “making, storing, and disseminating documents and materials for anti-state purposes” under Article 117 of Vietnam’s Penal Code.
Sentenced with Thuy, Pam Chi Dung was given a 15-year prison term, while Le Huu Minh Tuan was jailed for 11 years.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Vietnam 175 out of 180 in its 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Around 25 journalists and bloggers are being held in Vietnam’s jails, “where mistreatment is common,” the Paris-based watchdog group said.
Vietnam’s already low tolerance of dissent deteriorated sharply last year with a spate of arrests of independent journalists, publishers, and Facebook personalities as authorities continued to stifle critics in the run-up to the ruling Communist Party Congress in January.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by An Nguyen. Written in English by Richard Finney.